May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and as the weather continues to get warm, many people start spending more time outside. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, but it’s also one of the most preventable.
Causes and Types of Skin Cancer
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary cause of skin cancer. UVA and UVB are the two main types of sun rays, and both cause skin cancer by damaging the DNA in our skin cells. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes.
The two broad categories of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. The most common, non-melanoma types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. You can find more information here.
This doesn’t mean that you have to stay inside and avoid the sun. Going outside is great for doing daily physical activity, getting vitamin D and taking a break during the work day. But when you do go outside, be sure you are protecting your skin.
How to Protect Your Skin
Here are ways you can lower your risk of developing skin cancer:
- Limit your time in the sun. UV rays are the strongest between 10am and 4pm. Take a break from the sun and spend time in the shade.
- Apply broad spectrum sunscreen frequently. Use at least SPF 15 or higher even when it’s cloudy and reapply if you are in the sun for an extended period of time.
- Cover your skin. Wear clothing that covers your skin when possible, and wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck.
- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
The evidence that diet may help protect against skin cancer is not clear. Some studies suggest protective potential for certain foods, such as tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, and pink or red grapefruit (foods rich in lycopene), as well as some dark, leafy vegetables. But these findings are not conclusive and should not replace protecting your skin with clothing, sunscreen and limiting sun exposure.
Before you head outside to heat up the grill or take that first dive into the pool, make sure your skin is protected to help reduce your risk of skin cancer.
For more information on sunlight and cancer, visit the National Institutes of Health website.